The cream is beginning to rise to the top. Following a volatile first half of the season, the top seven teams have now seemingly cemented themselves in the conversation for a #1 seed in March.
Baylor just keeps rolling along, suffocating teams, Gonzaga is destroying the competition out west. San Diego State just keeps winning, even though their performances haven’t been aesthetically pleasing. Kansas is cruising in the Big 12.
Louisville, Florida State, and Duke are the clear frontrunners in the ACC. Dayton isn’t killing teams but Obi Toppin just keeps giving us amazing, highlight-reel dunks every game. The conversations about college basketball being especially volatile are dying down when it comes to the top seven.
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The Top 10
#1 – Baylor (21-1)
Over the weekend, Baylor defeated Texas, 52-45, holding the Longhorns to just 16 first-half points. Texas was held to just 30% from the field and 17% from three, but Baylor wasn’t a whole lot better. The Bears were just a combined +1 on rebounding and turnovers but the difference was Baylor’s six threes, compared to just three from Texas.
It was an ugly game and perhaps a microcosm of the college basketball season, especially Baylor’s season. Baylor will face a tough home test this weekend when they host the #14 West Virginia Mountaineers in a big defensive showdown.
#2- Gonzaga (25-1)
Last week, Gonzaga beat Loyola by 18 and St. Mary’s by 30. Against St. Mary’s the expectation was that St. Mary’s would be the last legitimate threat to Gonzaga for this season. The result was an overwhelming victory in which they shot 68% from the field. Gonzaga was +10 on the boards and they rode a 53-point first half-wave to an easy victory.
The past two performances were ones Gonzaga really needed to stay in the #1 seed conversation because, frankly, they don’t have a very impressive resume. Their three big wins are Oregon (by one), Arizona (by four) and Washington (by seven). Those are solid wins, but their North Carolina win looks pretty bad now, and their 18-point loss to Michigan looks a lot worse now.
When the revisionist history comes up around tourney time, the committee is definitely going to take their schedule and really examine just how overvalued it is. They’ve beaten one ranked team all season and their only loss was an 18-point loss to an unranked team. They need to keep up this blowout pace if they hope to hold on to a top seed.
#3- Kansas (20-3)
The Jayhawks handled a mediocre Texas team (by 11) and shut down a very average TCU team (by 14) last week. In the TCU game, Kansas shot just 4-13 from deep but really didn’t need to shoot well, as they dominated the boards (+13).
On Wednesday, Kansas rallied in the second half to overcome a very stubborn West Virginia team, limiting the Mountaineers to 19 points in the second half. Kansas’ defense limited West Virginia to just 31% from the field and allowed them to win on a night the Jayhawks were surprisingly -11 on the boards. Kansas hasn’t looked amazing by any standard, but their advantage on the boards and on defense allows them much more room for error on the shooting end.
If Kansas can manage to either beat Baylor and run the table or lose to just Baylor but win the conference tournament, they’ll lock themselves in to a top seed.
#4- San Diego State (25-0)
The San Diego State Aztecs have a stretch from Feb 2nd to Feb 15th where they’ll have only played two games. That’s a really strange schedule but then again, it’s been a strange season for the only undefeated team in College basketball.
This past week, the Aztecs beat Air Force by 15, shooting 56% from the field and 52% from three despite losing the rebounding battle (-3). The Aztecs typically average around four more rebounds per game than their opponent, so it’s a bit worrisome they were outrebounded by a 9-15 Air Force squad. In their last game, San Diego State used a big second half (+21) to coast to a big win over New Mexico State.
The Aztecs were +6 on the boards and forced 18 turnovers as the Lobos were limited to 35% from the field and 21% from deep. Their only scheduled game this week is Sunday against Boise State (17-9). After that, the Aztecs have just three games remaining to achieve perfection.
#5- Louisville (21-3)
Louisville had won ten in a row before Wednesday’s loss at Georgia Tech. They were one of the hottest teams in college basketball and they’re now on a collision course to face #8 Florida State on February 24th. Odds are, they’ll face Florida State or Duke at least one more time before the big tourney, so their seeding is still in the air.
Last week, Louisville beat Wake Forest (86-76) and Virginia (80-73) in two home games the Cardinals probably didn’t expect to be so close. Wake Forest (10-12) took a 12-point halftime lead before the Cardinals erupted in the second half with a +22 scoring differential, and the Virginia game was the opposite with Louisville holding a 14-point halftime lead only for it to turn into a two-point deficit with just over three minutes to go in the game. Louisville closed out the game on a 12-3 run. Jordan Nwora keyed the victory as the Cardinals were able to overcome a red-hot shooting performance by the Cavaliers.
Nwora’s team-high seven rebounds and 22 points (4-8 from three) highlighted a strong rebounding effort from the Cardinals as they went +12 on the boards and held the Cavaliers to only 19 rebounds. Wednesday was a truly horrifying experience for Louisville and its fans. Georgia Tech shot just 4-14 from deep and was (-7) on the boards. Louisville was absolutely terrible, going just 34% from the field and 3-24 from deep. Jordan Nwora was 1-6 (0-4 from three) for only two points. This week, Louisville will play Clemson on the road in what will be a challenging environment.
#6- Dayton (22-2)
With just under 11 minutes to go in Saturday’s game against St. Louis, the Billikens clung to a 49-48 lead until a Jalen Crutcher three put the Flyers ahead of the Billikens for good (second time this season Crutcher has made the go-ahead three against St. Louis).
The Flyers overcame a -6 on the bards and a 5-17 effort from three on the night to escape with the win. With just two days off, the Flyers had a quick turnaround against Rhode Island on Tuesday. Dayton jumped out to a 17-0 lead on Tuesday, holding serve against a good Rhode Island (18-6) team the rest of the way for their 22nd victory of the season.
Obi Toppin again stole the show, scoring 22 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Toppin is now firmly in the conversation for player of the year and the Flyers are flying high, winners of 13 straight.
#7- Duke (21-3)
It was a wild weekend for Duke and as if their overtime win at North Carolina wasn’t enough, the Blue Devils overcame another sloppy 21 turnover performance Monday to knock out the Seminoles of Florida State. On Saturday, Duke overcame a 13-point deficit and needed a last-second shot to force overtime against the Tar Heels.
Once overtime came, Duke again rallied to win on a crazy series of events. After such an exhausting win, a home game against Florida State less than 48 hours later wasn’t exactly ideal, but Duke showed up, shot well, won the battle on the boards, and ultimately earned the win.
With the win, Duke moved within a half-game of Louisville for the top spot in the ACC. Duke still has a shot at a #1 seed, but for now, they’ll have four days off before they play Notre Dame on Saturday.
#8 – Florida State (20-4)
Florida State had nine players in double digits in their home win over rival, Miami on Saturday. 13 different players scored for Florida State as the Noles were +22 on rebounding and -6 in turnovers. Even with a spike in turnovers, Florida State went 53% from the field, 50% from three, and 16-17 from the line.
By the time Monday rolled around, the magic was gone. Florida State was +9 on turnovers but lost the rebounding battle by three, shot 38% from the field and only 17% from three (3-18). Both teams were clearly tired after Saturday, but the good news for the Noles is, they get a full four days off to rest before playing Syracuse Saturday.
#9 – Maryland (19-4)
Maryland took the top spot in the Big 10 from Illinois Friday with a nine-point win over the Fighting Illini in a battle for the Big 10 lead. Maryland used a big second half (+11) to overcome Illinois. A late push sparked by Darryl Morsell’s three broke the game open for good and Maryland never looked back.
On Tuesday, Maryland narrowly avoided disaster by edging out Nebraska (7-17) by two at home. Maryland took the lead two minutes into the game and never trailed, but they found it difficult to put Nebraska away, as the Huskers rallied late. Maryland lost the turnover battle (-6) but managed to win rebounds (+1) and shot better from the field and from three, allowing them just enough breathing room throughout the game to make up for their 17 turnovers.
Next up for Maryland will be a big road test against Michigan State on Saturday.
#10 – Seton Hall (18-5)
Myles Powell may have just killed his own bid for player of the year Wednesday by going 3-16 and 1-11 from three as his unnecessary Kobe homage ruined his team’s chances to win at home against Creighton. Every time Seton Hall looked like they might get a handle on the game, Myles Powell took some ill-advised shot to make sure Creighton would be positioned to put the game away, and that’s exactly what happened.
After unseating Villanova from the top 10 on Saturday (70-64), Powell took his hero ball game style to another level Wednesday when it absolutely wasn’t necessary. Ten years ago, he may have been the lock for player of the year when voters didn’t take into account shooting percentages as much, but today, his lack of efficiency is probably going to cost him.
On the year, Powell is averaging over 21 points a game, but his 40% field goal percentage and 31% three-point percentage tell more truth than his raw numbers. This Saturday, Powell and the Pirates will get a shot at redemption as they travel to Providence to face the Friars.
Best Futures bets to make the Final Four
#23 Creighton (19-6) +1,400
Why not? Creighton is fighting it out in the Big East right now, winners of six in their last seven games. They’re beaten the likes of Texas Tech, Villanova, and Seton Hall. With this season being wildly unpredictable, Creighton is likely to end up around a #5 seed and should only need two real upsets along the way to get to the Final Four.
The money is right here, so if you’re planning on rolling the dice on a team capable of beating the big teams, Creighton is a good option at these odds.
#24 Texas Tech (16-8) +1,150
Texas Tech is heating up at just the right time and they certainly have the coaching staff and fortitude to do damage in the tourney. They’re currently sitting in the #3 spot in the Big 12 standings. As I’ve stated before, this is the kind of year we could see the team go deep with such a murky view of the college basketball landscape.
Texas Tech has won four of their last five with their only loss being a three-point loss at Kansas. On Monday, the Red Raiders beat TCU in a revenge game by 46 points. Anytime you see a team firing on all cylinders like this, it’s a pretty good indicator for what their ceiling can be and a ceiling like theirs is capable of making the Final Four.
#6 Dayton +275
Call me crazy but Jalen Crutcher and Obi Toppin may be the best player combo in the country. With a dynamic forward in Toppin and a solid guard in Crutcher, Dayton has a ceiling to win it all. Now, consider the likely seeding for Dayton in the tourney. Dayton should be around a #2 seed and possibly a #1 depending on what happens with San Diego State and Gonzaga out west.
Even if they get a #2 seed, they’ll be favored in every game leading up to the Elite Eight. If they face the #1 seed in their region in the Elite Eight, which is even less of a lock this season, they’re probably only going to be slight underdogs.
The first two rounds are going to be pretty soft and I’m not worried about them being an underdog in the Sweet 16 because they have the best duo in the country and the current #3 seeds are noticeably a class below the rest of the teams at the top. I like Dayton here, even if the odds don’t jump off the page.